MPs, campaigners and lawyers sound alarm bells about the purpose, powers and practicalities of the Brexit bill.
From employment rights to environmental standards, many of the most cherished legal protections in British life could be rewritten at will by the government under sweeping new powers proposed by the “great repeal bill”.
David Davis, the minister in charge of shepherding this giant legislation through parliament, insists such authority will only be used to carry out whatever “technical changes” are deemed necessary to keep British law functioning as he negotiates the UK’s departure from the European Union.
But campaigners and lawyers from both sides of the political spectrum have sounded alarm bells about the precedent, practicalities and purpose of a bill described as “one of the largest legislative projects ever undertaken” by the House of Commons library.
The great misnomer
The first and perhaps most cosmetic concern is that the exercise has been deliberately misnamed. Though styled after the radical great reform bill of 1832, it could, as even supporters like Davis concede, just as easily have been called the “great continuity bill”, since it largely transposes existing EU law rather than aiming to introduce new rules.
“That doesn’t have the same appeal,” the Brexit secretary told MPs recently when asked if it would be more accurate to describe the legislation as the great conversion bill.
It would have played a more radical role in its original conception, since its first provision is to overturn the 1972 European Communities Act and therefore formally restore parliamentary sovereignty at the moment that Britain leaves the EU.